Not everyone has the clubs and teams that meet their interests readily available. That's when taking initiative to start your own organization can come into play. It is a lot of work, so never do this just because you think it looks good on a resume—it does, but so do lots of other less draining extracurriculars! If you do decide to strike out on your own, we have some advice to help you on your way.
In this post, we'll go over:
- how to assess your motivations for starting a club,
- taking over a student-run club, and
- participating in any activity in the first place.
With these tips in mind, you’ll have a good foundation on how to survive self-starting activities in high school, college, and beyond.
1. Set out your goals.
There are different reasons for participating in any activity. In undergrad, my main activities were non-competitive club gymnastics and competitive speech (forensics). Let’s break that down.
A. For Fun
In gymnastics, my goal was to try something I knew would challenge me, because I hadn't had the opportunity as a child to learn it. I met a lot of wonderful friends and got a lot stronger. This was something I was doing purely for fun and social reasons. It did come with a volunteer hours commitment (usually helping with babysitting nights in the gym) because we were in charge of raising all our own funding—these types of fundraising expectations are extremely common. (Stay tuned for fundraising advice later in this series.) I don't regret my decision at all, but even for fun activities, be prepared to devote a lot of time to the nuts and bolts of keeping a club functioning. This is true even if you're just a member, and not a founder or officer!
B. For Results
In speech, my goals were competitive. I competed for four years in high school, I wanted to get our college team to a place where we could perform at our absolute best both in and outside our local district. Like many goals, I missed the mark that I had envisioned, but definitely came closer to it than I would have if my standards had been calibrated lower. I definitely paid for it financially and academically—which is another thing to consider. Don't start a club or take over a student-run club if your academics will suffer. It was worth it to me because I loved the activity and got a lot of gratification from competing and coaching.
No matter what, make sure your choices have value.
Most people don't think either of these activities are connected to health science at all, but consider this:
- an activity you start or participate in doesn't have to be directly related to your ultimate major or career goals, and
- both activities gave me more complete perspectives on human health that I wouldn't have necessarily gotten from my regular coursework.
Collecting these different experiences (that I intrinsically enjoyed) and meeting people outside my field widened my perspectives. I found a greater appreciation for what the human body can do and how to take care of it, and learned how to communicate how critical social determinants are to overall public health outcomes. The skills these activities gave me have been immensely helpful in my professional and academic pursuits.
2. Devise your battle strategy for achieving those goals.
I'm calling this a battle strategy for a reason—if you're doing something to show competitiveness while also taking initiative on your own, be prepared to fight… and do a lot of paperwork. For a variety of reasons, people are intimidated by (and like to put off doing) paperwork. This will ruin you if you're starting an organization from the ground up! If you pay attention to literally nothing else in this blog post, please heed my advice on this one. It's deceptively obvious but disastrously neglected. So many clubs miss out on important opportunities because they put off filling out the paperwork, or get into trouble because they didn't distribute liability waivers to their team members. Especially if you're student-run, you need to be extra careful to ensure you have all of your permits, licenses, etc. properly filled out and up to date. What you need varies widely by activity and your goals, and while I can't predict what forms you'll need to have in order, I can't stress enough how important it is to ask about them and submit them as quickly as possible. Carefully view your institution’s regulations and policies, especially any grants that may be available for student activities and what the teacher/faculty involvement requirements are.
3. Going into battle is easier with allies.
Even if you don't necessarily need teacher involvement, seek out their support anyway because this is an excellent opportunity to build a close relationship with someone who could write you a really strong letter of recommendation. If you're in a competitive activity, it's immensely helpful to have a coach or teacher in your corner to advocate for you in case something goes wrong. Whether the issues are allegations of cheating, legitimate rules violations, or administrative mistakes, it's much easier to have someone more directly removed from the outcome (and a "real adult") defend your side. If you can't get faculty involved, reach out to alumni or even older siblings. If all else fails, it's doable, put make sure you know all the rules and loopholes by heart, both the ones that govern the activity and the ones that govern settling disputes. You'll be held to a higher standard for professionalism, so be prepared to meet it.
4. Get time on your side.
- Calculate the amount of time you think you'll need per week, month, and semester and multiply it by 1.5. Trust me. At least in my experience, everything takes much longer than you anticipate, and the more activities you're in, the more likely you are to burn out (and/or suffer slower functioning from decision fatigue).
- Also budget in time to sleep, exercise, and eat; these are basic human needs, and you will not be able to sustain functioning without them. That's not something to feel inferior about, our species literally evolved this way. These needs tend to go by the wayside very quickly, and your overall performance will suffer if you try to fight biology.
- Try to do things when you're most productive at that particular task. I know that's not always possible, but if you have any flexibility to do so, it's my favorite life hack. I was best at working on coursework during daylight. At nights, especially if I was working alone, I was more productive at forensics logistics, planning, and paperwork. I don't know why, that's just how I'm wired, and rolling with it was and still is integral to balancing all my responsibilities. Tuning into little things like that can save you an hour or two a day in otherwise wasted productive time.
So there you have it: the foundational survival guide to starting activities at your school. These are broadly applicable tips and pitfalls to watch. Stay tuned for the next posts in this series, where we will get into the norms surrounding self-started activities within specific disciplines!
If you'd like to discuss your extracurricular plans in-depth and get more personalized advice and strategies like this, set up a consultation with one of our team members to match you with your best-fit counselor today.